First, let me say that I would love to work for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, whose stores I also enjoy as a lowly peon unable to hang out at the museum, but they won’t return my calls. My thrice-daily calls. I wonder why. In any event, they’ve had a recent… problem… which I am loathe to share and speak about since I like the museum, but let us discuss it. As usual, reported from The New York Times Arts section (article by Randy Kennedy):
A glazed terra-cotta relief by the Renaissance sculptor Andrea della Robbia came loose overnight from its perch above a doorway at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and crashed to the stone floor below, suffering serious damage, museum officials said on Tuesday. The fractured 15th-century sculpture, a 62-inch-by-32-inch blue-and-white lunette depicting St. Michael the archangel in a traditional pose, holding a sword and scales, was found early on Tuesday by a guard on regular rounds.
Should we feel horror? Yes. But surprise? Not really. Look, a museum like The Met is as massive as its reputation. It employs an army of people to represent the museum and to keep it afloat. No doubt, several people will feel and have a lot of responsibility for this debacle, but when one considers the magnitude of the operations necessary to maintain so many antiquities and works, it is bound to happen once in a while. For example, when I worked in the Harn, some rather expensive works were damaged in transport, in a far less negligent fashion — bad packing. So long as humans are involved with a system, be it of maintenance, judging, or security, there will be mistakes. It’s just a part of our make-up as members of homo economicus.
The worst part for the museum is the set of likely consequences, none good. This is very bad PR, and since the market is so competitive, one can expect museums that compete in the same markets as The Met to highlight this episode at the same time that others have second thoughts about giving works to it or loaning antiquities. It’s a short road to perdition from this point, so The Met will likely have to expend a not insignificant amount of maintenance, which means less money for other operations. As a similar point, its insurance will go up — probably a lot. I suppose that’s good for art insurers though, since this type of an episode is very unlikely to recur at The Met.